For so much of their long and distinguished history, the Boston Celtics have treated a NBA Playoff berth as a birthright with a championship the cherry on the cake.
No-one really expected them to be heading for the post-season this spring. In fact, just this week, team president Danny Ainge admitting missing out wouldn’t be a failure, declaring: “I’m not really hanging on that.”
The problem is no-one told his players, who had surged to 10 wins out of 13 before Wednesday’s messy blowout loss to the Miami Heat made it four reverses out of five. And as for so many sitting in mid-Conference mediocrity, over-achievement is really the last thing they need amid their longer-term goals.
He won’t be awarded Coach of the Year but scarcely has anyone kept raising their stock amid mediocrity as Brad Stevens. The playcaller who looks younger than most of his charges has gotten the most out of what he has at his disposal, with the Celtics fourth overall in assists by pushing the pace – while also taking full advantage of the strength of schedule offered by the league’s worst division.
The C’s are 9-4 against their Atlantic rivals heading into Friday’s trip to their old but downtrodden chums, the New York Knicks who are in line to equal their franchise record for most defeats.
Even though Boston have lost the first quarter in five straight games (the Knicks are huge value at 3.10 on this one), the visitors are 1.17 to come out on top and a repeat of last month’s 108-97 annihilation would pay out on the handicap at 1.87.
But here’s the rub. The Celtics aren’t – in Ainge’s words – “good enough to be the favorite every night.” They won’t be for some time yet, even if they reach the Playoffs.
And with Indiana, Brooklyn and Charlotte all within a 1/2 game in the East, there’s no guarantee they’ll get there.
Which would be no bad thing in Beantown. A little Lottery luck might fall their way. Stevens will have the time and patience to chase titles once he has the talent to match – in the future, not the present.
Bostonians can enjoy their side making an impact once again. But sometimes, you can have too much of a good thing.
Best bet: Go under 187.5 total points in New York – Boston at 2.95